Predicting the Past: The Geography of Settlement in Louisiana, 1699-1890, and Its Application to Historic Preservation.
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Geography and Anthropology
William V. Davidson
Historical geographers, because of their ability to place cultural phenomena in the appropriate spatial and temporal dimensions often conduct research that significantly parallels the interests of the preservationist. Now that the initial focus within historic preservation has shifted from the individual specimen to the cultural and historical milieu of which it was a part, a thorough understanding of the forces that were responsible for the creation of what confronts us as a relict cultural landscape is indispensable. The preservation of cultural resources, specifically historic sites and structures has, in the past, normally been conducted on a case-by-case basis. In this initial phase of cultural resource management, sites and structures were frequently identified and evaluated only when threatened with destruction. More recently, preservationists have realized the importance of planning and have attempted to isolate meaningful cultural and historical themes and to anticipate their material manifestations. This dissertation examines the settlement geography of Louisiana from the first French settlement in 1699 until the railroad and lumber boom of the 1890s. The study uses seven time-slices to present the progression of the patterns and processes of settlement. For 1740, 1775, 1810, 1830, 1850, 1870, and 1890, major patterns were derived from censuses, the differential occupation of natural vegetation zones, and the cadastral imprint of French, Spanish, and British colonial settlement. Agricultural land use, the role of water and railroad transportation, and social change constitute the most important factors that shaped the patterns of settlement. Building upon this spatial and temporal framework, characteristics of Louisiana's historic standing houses are presented. Folk types and architectural styles including French Creole, Antebellum plantation houses, and pyramidal roof structures are treated as a product, or artifact, of the state's dynamic settlement geography. Assumptions concerning that portion of settlement known as the "built environment" are tested using a sample of 557 historic standing structures. Further, two case studies of Louisiana parishes are presented to illustrate the settlement-environment relationship. The example of Terrebonne Parish confirmed the close relationship between colonial land claim location and natural levees. A nine parish swath between St. Martin and St. Tammany was used to demonstrate the relationship between agricultural production and the loess blufflands, alluvial bottomlands, and piney woods. The results of this study refine our understanding of the cultural and environmental parameters of the settlement of Louisiana, and address the significance of individual structures by placing them in the broader context of historical geography.
Mires, Peter Bingham, "Predicting the Past: The Geography of Settlement in Louisiana, 1699-1890, and Its Application to Historic Preservation." (1988). LSU Historical Dissertations and Theses. 4661.